Beat’s Picks: The best music documentaries of MIFF

Get the latest from Beat

Beat’s Picks: The best music documentaries of MIFF


Amongst the Melbourne International Film Festival’s stellar slate of documentaries, true crime, sci-fi retrospectives, animation, VR and more, comes its trailblazing music on film program. Across 16 captivating flicks, MIFF will be shining the torch on a range of alluring narratives, including Australian indie rock pioneers The Go-Betweens, the Buena Vista Social Club, even Major Lazer for all you hip hop buffs out there.

It’s going to be a doozy so to gear you up for MIFF’s action-packed August, we’ve put together the best music docos not-to-be-missed from the festival.

The Go-Betweens: Right Here

To say The Go-Betweens are Australian made goes far beyond two simple words. Spawning from the humble suburbs of Brisbane in 1977, the indie rock virtuosos were largely underappreciated during their tenure but have come to inspire generations after generations of musicians. Where do you think Belle and Sebastian got their eloquent melodies? Even Nada Surf. Who would’ve thought an New York alt rock band would be drawing influence from an Australian pop rock outfit. Ultimately, The Go-Betweens: Right Here will uncap the harrowing story of a band with a global aspirations but insufficient appreciation and reach.

Screening at ACMI on Saturday August 5 and The Forum on Sunday August 6.

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios

Revered director Lucy Walker, of The Crash Reel acclaim, returns to say goodbye to Cuba’s beloved son cubano ensemble, the Buena Vista Social Club. Walker draws from Wim Wenders’ original 1999 picture which introduced the world to the ostentatious musicians who consummately performed at Havana’s namesake members’ club under restricted eye. Now, as the Buena Vista Social Club get set to embark on their farewell tour, Walker has dived back into the archives to uncover original footage and outtakes from Wenders’ original shoot. A momentous watch.

Coming to the Forum on Friday August 11 and Hoyts Melbourne Central on Saturday August 19.

Chasing Trane

John Coltrane was one of the first musicians to fissure the strict confines of jazz as was originally known. Before Miles Davis produced modal masterpiece Kind of Blue, Coltrane vehemently explored the possibilities of modal jazz to its wits end. The great composer passed away to liver cancer far too young and Chasing Trane attempts to reboot the memories of the music maven. Chronologically, the film will traverse Coltrane’s upbringing through to his work with Davis and then dive into his stellar 1965 album, A Love Supreme. More than 50 of Coltrane’s recordings are permeated throughout the feature, like seeing the great Trane live in the flesh.

Catch it at ACMI on Wednesday August 9 and the Kino on Saturday August 19. Tickets selling fast.

Liberation Day

What at first looks like drudgery and slave listening appears at further look, more fruitful and effervescent. I’m talking about the direction of avant-garde Slovenian outfit Laibach who know no bounds. Not only is their music indescribable but so is their motive – in 2015, the six-piece became the first rock band to play within the confines of North Korea. In this no-holds-barred documentary, Laibach’s tour manager Morten Traavik joins Latvian director and screenwriter Ugis Olte to detail this hazardous and equally stupendous tour. They performed in Pyongyang and the venue was full, that’s all I’m going to say.

Jumping into ACMI on Sunday August 6 and the Kino on Saturday August 12.

Long Strange Trip

The fervency behind The Grateful Dead’s cult was unparalleled. No band could assemble the heterogeneous mix of genres that this San Franciscan outfit did and at the beginning that’s what made them so indigestible. Nevertheless, that’s how they liked it and while they produced music more radio-unfriendly than static, The Grateful Dead pioneered a new design and way of thinking. Beneath the veneer of music grandeur laid trails of adversity stemming from drug addiction and crime. Director Amir Bar-Lev comes together with acclaimed executive producer Martin Scorsese to create a cosmic recollection of the masterminds. Like a Grateful Dead track, Long Strange Trip clocks in at four hours so is not for the ill-willed.

One exclusive screening at Hoyts Melbourne Central on Saturday August 12.

Two Trains Runnin’

Invested in roots and blues and have a feverish interest in African-American history? Two Trains Runnin’ is the film for you. Narrated by music luminary Common, the picture unravels secrets locked away for decades – elephants in the room that so many wanted to expel but weren’t compelled. It was 1964 when two groups of musical archaeologists trod into Mississippi in search of absent Delta blues legends Skip James and Son House. Unknowingly, the explorers would get themselves into a political hellhole that stands as a longing memory of black and white division in America. Stunning screenplay from director Sam Pollard (When the Levee Breaks).

Check it out at the Kino on Friday August 4 and Hoyts Melbourne Central on Tuesday August 8. Ticks flyin’ out the door.

Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba

Jumping back into contemporary consciousness and branching out from Buena Vista’s Cuban influence, Major Lazer became the first international band to play in Havana post-embargo. The hip hop electronic duo ruled the world with their 2015 hit single Lean On, so they chose to appreciate their most obscure supporters on a whirlwind 2016 tour. This took them to Pakistan, Ethiopia, Venezuela and yes, Cuba where Western music had previously been banned by Fidel Castro. This guerrilla documentary encompasses the flourishing underground popular culture that’s only privy to less than 10% internet penetration as well this historic concert from Major Lazer, only the second there from a US outfit since 1962.

Give Me Future rocks into Hoyts Melbourne Central on Friday August 4 and the Kino on Saturday August 19.